Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rav Shmuel Auerbach, ZL

Rav Shmuel Auerbach, ZL
I wasn't going to comment on the passing of Rav Shmuel Auerbach. I had some serious issues with him and felt it inappropriate to criticize someone so soon after his death. And unfair to his loved ones mourning him at this very moment. But he was a major personality in Jewish life whose views impacted a lot of people. And since it is highly unlikely that any of his relatives would ever see or even become aware of it - I have reconsidered.

There has been an outpouring of praise in many of the eulogies. I listened for a few minutes to one of the people who eulogized him at his funeral. (A funeral that was attended by many thousands!) I heard anguished cries about the loss - much the same one would hear at the funeral of any Gadol.

It made me think back to the condemnation of Rav Auerbach I heard from Charedi rabbinic leaders when he was alive. It is of course highly unlikely to hear anything negative at a funeral. One will only hear praise. I will attempt to do the some of that. But not without the criticism he clearly deserved near the end of his life.

I added ZL (Zichrono L’Vracha) after his name because I mean it. Despite my strong disagreement with him when he was alive - I  hope his memory will indeed be remembered for a blessing. May the good works he did during his lifetime be an inspiration to all of us. After hearing and reading some of those eulogies, I know there were many.

Clearly he was a Talmid Chacham. Which is not surprising considering the home in which he was raised. His father, R’ Shlomo Zalman Aurebach was a man of great humility - a legend in his own lifetime. A man that was defined by his humanity and his caring for fellow Jews of all stripes - as much as he was for his vast Torah knowledge. He went out of his way to make sure that no one was ever hurt, embarrassed, or insulted by his piety. When his religious sensibilities were challenged by what he encountered in life, he never rebuked anyone. He focused inward to remedy the situation.

Apparently his son, R’ Shmuel was the same way. He was a kind and caring individual that empathized with the pain of any Jew he encountered, regardless of their level of observance.

However, I do not regret my past criticism. It was not so much because of his beliefs or politics. As much as I disagreed with him – as did most of the mainstream Charedi world, he was entitled to his opinion.  

What was troubling about him was his tolerance – if not encouragement - of the constant Chilul HaShem his followers perpetrated in the cause he became most famous for during the last few years of his life: The extreme opposition to any cooperation with Israel’s conscription laws – as they affected yeshiva students. Which was in diametric opposition to the views of Rav Ahraon Leib Shteinman, ZTL - the man most mainstream Charedi rabbinc leaders considered the Gadol HaDor.

R’ Aharon Leib Steinman instructed Yeshiva students to cooperate with the government as the conscription law eventually came to be written – and register for the draft.

R’ Shmuel disagreed and told Yeshiva students not to cooperate – and refuse to register even upon pain of incarceration. For this R’ Shmuel was lambasted by fellow Charedi rabbinic leaders  in the Yeshiva world. Including Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

I had always thought R’ Shmuel had a right to his views. As noted in one eulogy I saw, I believe he was motivated  by his love of the Jewish people. I even believed he had a right to tell Yeshiva students to resist the new draft laws and suffer the consequences. What I strongly protested is how this opposition evolved into one Chilul HaShem after another via protests. In this regard - the behavior of the Yeshiva students that followed Rav Auerbach was disgusting!

That said, I doubt very strongly that Rav Shmuel told his young followers to behave that way. But I blamed him for the rhetoric that inspired it. And for his refusal – or lack of ability - to stop it. Especially since it happened more than once. It was almost as though he tolerated it as a means of making his point.

R Yitzhak Bar-Chaim (VIN)
One of the many instances those incidents came at the expense of Rabbi Yitzhak Bar-Chaim, the founder of Nachal Charedi. From VIN
Approximately one year ago, Bar-Haim was assaulted by extremists who claimed to represent the battle against the draft of yeshiva students. 
One might think that Rabbi Bar-Chaim would not have attended the funeral out of sheer exasperation about his opposition to Nachal Charedi – which was in direct contradiction to Rav Auerbach’s positions. Not to mention the beating he took from R' Auerbach’s followers because of it. But one would be wrong to think that: 
In an interview after the funeral, Rabbi Bar-Haim explained that he chose to attend because, “Rav Shmuel was a gadol, great in Torah and avodas Hashem. Even if he opposed things that I’ve done, there is no question regarding the stature of his Torah and service of G-d. That’s why it wasn’t even a question for me whether I should attend this funeral. The world is now sorely missing a righteous Jew who toiled in Torah despite immense challenges and adversity.”
Recalling the beating he endured approximately a year ago from draft protesters, Rabbi Bar-Haim explains, “I know what a gentle person Rav Shmuel was. He was pleasant, soft, and unusually sensitive to the poor and downtrodden. If he had any idea how much the soldiers are suffering, I have no doubt that he would have protested strongly against the negative behavior. 
It should also be noted that a Rav Shlomo Aviner, a rabbinic leader in Religious Zionist Movement had similar words of praise in his eulogy about Rav Auerbach – despite his diametric opposition to Rav Aviner’s views.

I wish I could say that had I been in his shoes, I would have done the same thing as did Rabbi Bar-Chaim. And say the same things that both he and Rav Aviner did. It shows their true humility. It shows an ability to understand and accept as legitimate views in diametric opposition to their own. Even despite the personal consequences of that opposition. And despite what it made the Yeshiva world look like to Jews outside of Israel’s Charedi orbit.

But I can’t. All I can do is see the damage (whether intentional or not) to the image of religious Judaism his views had wrought. And at the same time recognize that Rav Shmuel Auerbach had a gentler side. A side that reflected his father’s pleasant ways.   

Had it not been for his strident appeal to extremism (again - whether intentional or not) he might have been remembered in the same way his father has been. But I think there will always be an asterisk next to his name when it comes to remembering his legacy.